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Mindful Curiosity

On a sunny Friday morning, I rode my bike to the gym for a yoga class and a workout. Yoga was on the deck in the balmy summer air with a teacher I love. I was looking forward to a swim and then a leisurely ride home.

As I walked to the locker room, the sky suddenly went dark and rain roared on the roof. I threw my gear in a bag, ran out to my bike, and was soaked through before I had the lock off. I bumped my bike through the puddles in the parking lot but pedal as I might I couldn’t make it through the first traffic light before it turned red.

As the rain poured through my helmet and dripped down my nose, I stared angrily at the red light. I imagined riding home miserably, uncomfortably, grimly.

I’d missed my swim, but realized I was still getting wet on a summer morning. I took a breath and felt the rain on my skin. It felt tingly and alive. I wondered what would happen if I rode the rest of the way home happily. Or gratefully. Or joyfully. What if I changed the adverb to adventurously or curiously?

I felt the muscles in my face and shoulders soften. The light turned green and I turned onto the next street gleefully.

What happens when you choose your adverb with intention? How does that change the sensation? How does the adverb transform the experience?


I’m teaching extra classes and will be diving into the Adverb Dance with three classic Nia routines:
TranceVision ~ Monday 1045am acac square, Tuesday 840am acac downtown
Moodfood ~ Wednesday 11am acac square, Thursday 840am acac downtown
Fantasia ~ Friday, 6pm acac downtown (101 at 545pm), Saturday, 1245pm acac square (101 at 1230pm)
Inspired by the teaching of Brad Stoller as well as the Nia Blue Belt, we’ll explore how intention and focus changes movement, sensation and experience! Please join me.



My first book! Coming Soon!

I’ve finalized the pages and the cover mechanical is done (doesn’t that sound official and cool? I have no real idea what it means). Please join me in the adventure of the publication of my first book. Go to http://www.susanmcculley.com and sign up to be a Buddha Cat Backer! You’ll get updates, insights, goodies and discounts! Can’t wait to do this together.

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“Assuredly, I say unto you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.” ~ Matthew 25:40, New King James Version

It’s my left ankle.

When I was visiting my sister, I went for a jog on a favorite trail near her house. I don’t run often but I do love to go out in the woods and dart around between the trees. The trail is uneven and rooty so I should have known better, I should have walked instead of run but I didn’t. And a couple miles out, I twisted my ankle. Of course I did.

Oh my ankle, I thought. It’s been weak since college. Silly ankle, there weren’t even any roots where I fell. Oh ankle, I said, you’ll be fine.

I walked for a few steps then ran the rest of the way home.

I did put ice on it but not for very long. I took some ibuprofen but not consistently. I rubbed some arnica on it but hours after it happened. I took yoga the next day. I didn’t really give my poor ankle much attention or care.

 “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” ~Matthew 25:40, New International Version

Nearly 19 years later, what I remember is how kind he was to the waitress.
When we went out for the first time in January 1998, I had been on my share of restaurant dates. In my time, I’ve gripped my chair and swallowed hard while dates treated wait staff with superiority, curtness, impatience and even (I shudder) ridicule. Mostly, though, my experience had been that waiters were treated as though they were invisible.

I remember other things from our first date, of course. I remember what I wore (black turtleneck sweater and jeans), where we went (Mono Loco before it was only tacos), what we drank (that amazing hibiscus tea) but what has stuck with me after all these years is that he was kind to the waitress. He offered a friendly smile and gratitude. He saw her.

Verily I Say to you, That inasmuch as ye did so to one of these my little brothers, ye did so to me. ~Matthew 25:40, Aramaic Translation

I am neither a church goer nor Bible reader but Matthew 25:40 cuts straight to my heart. The truth of this: however you treat the least of these, so you treat me. YES. THIS is the measure of any person, group, organization or country. Not how much money they make or the awards they get or the number of followers they have. Nothing is as great a measure of character than how they treat the least among them.

If an executive treats the boss with cooperative respect but doesn’t acknowledge the maintenance team when she passes them in the hall, that says something about her.

If a congregant offers the worship leader compliments while he complains about the difficult and talkative octogenarian who sits in the front pew, that says something about him.

If a company pays executives high salaries but the hourly employees minimum wage, that says something about the organization.

If the richest corporations and individuals get tax breaks and access to political leaders while the poor, immigrants, minorities and the environment get less and less support every year, that says something about the country.

Look at any individual or group and ask how do they treat the least powerful among them. The answer to that will speak volumes. It will tell you everything you need to know about who they really are.

intent feeling first 122615
Your heart knows the way.
Run in that direction.
~ Rumi

Resolutions.
Gah.
The very word is grim. It rings of steely determination. Of buttoning up and buckling down.
There is no breath or life or joy in being resolute.
Resolutions grumpify me.

But intention?
That’s the kind of juicy goodness that I can get behind.
Intent is a powerful pursuit any time ~ not just at the end of the year.

But here we are, in the last week of 2015, so why not dig into the vital energy of intention?
(Especially since you’re reading a blog that explores “The Magic of Inquiry & Intent”?)

We are thinky creatures, we humans (especially we American humans), hell bent on our pursuit of happiness. Which is a cool and natural inclination, of course. With our resolutions, though, we go at it backwards. We start with What? instead of Why?

Resolutions are Whats: go to the gym every day, meditate in the morning, cut back on the coffee and the chardonnay, and of course, the ubiquitous, lose ten pounds. All fine things to do but they skip over the real question: Why?

Intentions are Whys. Intentions get at the root of what we want. Intentions are about how we want to feel. Going to the gym and cutting out caffeine and losing those pounds are really just means to an end. They are things that we think will make us feel a certain way.

Maybe they will and maybe they won’t. My suspicion is that one of the reasons people almost never keep their New Year’s Resolutions is that they don’t feel the way they think they will, so they quit.

Why not start with the feeling and build the Whats around that?

Think of something you really want and imagine yourself fully possessing it. What do you see when you have it? What do you hear? What do you smell and taste? Who is with you or are you alone? And most of all, what do you feel? Inside and out? Physical and emotional? What do you feel like when you have this thing you want?

Get really clear on that feeling. Then think of as many activities/situations/people that either already give you that feeling or other ways that you can get it. Focus on the feeling and expand your imagination to include as many ways as you can that you can get that feeling…including perhaps, but not necessarily, the thing you started out wanting.*

And there you have it: a list of Whats for creating a year that feels the way you intend.

Intention is about the feeling. What do you want to feel like in 2016? Let’s start there.

 

* With gratitude to Jamie Catto for his Practical Magic workshop which reminded me of this approach of feeling first.


If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy these:
GPS of Intent Pt I
GPS of Intent Pt 2

body teacher lizzie“I’m Lizzie and I’ll be leading you through class this morning. I may offer corrections or suggest adjustments, but your body is your teacher. Always listen to your body first.” ~ Lizzie, my yoga teacher who I adore

Let’s say it’s Monday morning at 10:45am. Wise creature that you are, you’ve stepped into the studio where I am setting up for Nia class. When you walk into the room, you see me plugging in my iPod, checking the volume, then standing in front wearing the microphone. I lead some super cool choreography, reminding you to sense your body. Also, I tell hilarious stories. Seeing all this, you might say I was the teacher.

When you come to my class, I am your guide.
I am your witness.
I am your fellow practitioner.
But your body is your teacher.

Our bodies are incredible systems of sensation that are constantly communicating with us about what is happening and what it needs. Despite this wealth of information we rarely listen or trust our own sense of ourselves. Often we ask other people about our own health and well-being. We hire doctors and psychologists, nutritionists and trainers, physical therapists and chiropractors. They all have potentially helpful and insightful information to share based on their training and education. They certainly can offer guidance in making choices about your body and your health.

The first teacher to turn to, though, is your body.

Right now, check into your body. Take a second to stop reading and just sense what is so in your body right now. When I do this, I sense that my feet are cold, I need to use the bathroom and I’m thirsty. But here I sit, writing this post, with my mind overriding the needs of my body. (Hold on. I’ll be right back after I get some socks and tea and have a pee.)

We’re trained to do this. Our culture glorifies those who forget to eat, work long hours, hardly sleep. A lifetime of mind-overriding-body can leave us at a loss as to what’s actually happening inside our own skins, our own minds, our own hearts.

A friend was diagnosed with breast cancer last summer. The doctors told her to have a lumpectomy and to do it immediately. She didn’t. She took a month to make the decision. She did research, she talked to lots of people (some medical folk and some not), she listened to her intuition, and she listened to her body. At the end of the month she decided to have a double mastectomy. The doctors strongly disagreed but she held to her choice. When she went in for her operation, the surgeons saw that the lump was not as well-defined as they had believed. They would have had to go in for a second surgery if she had followed their suggestion. The best choice was exactly the one she made.

Go to experts. Do. Listen to what they have to say. But also listen to your body.

The mind can be a guiding, caring force or it can tangle us up. A focused mind is alert to an urge that distracts us from what is happening. A scared or impatient mind can criticize and judge what we are or are not doing. An anxious mind can convince us we have to push harder or do more. A defeated mind can persuade us that we can’t do what we are attempting. A peaceful mind can soothe and calm us.

Mindfulness yokes the body and mind; gets them pulling in the same direction.

We call them mindfulness practices (whether it’s yoga or meditation or golf or gardening or whatever works for you) because it’s practice. Practice away from the cultural pull to deny the body and worship the expert. Practice so that when life throws us a curve ball or a train wreck or a heartbreakingly beautiful sunset, we can be there for it. Practice allows us to have a direct experience of what is happening right now and connects us to the deep wisdom and intelligence that resides not just in our brains but in our very cells.

All this body wisdom stuff doesn’t have to be heavy or woo-woo. It’s accessible to everybody and it can be fun. I have a great time in my yoga classes even though I’m focused and concentrating. Sometimes it’s challenging, of course, sometimes I’d rather be digging a ditch than doing my practice. But I’m never sorry I spent time listening to my body. However you connect to your body, your greatest teacher, listen to what it has to tell you. If you happen to have a guide who tells hilarious stories, that’s just a bonus.

10000 teachers packing sjmWhatever is happening is the path to enlightenment. – Pema Chödrön

This week, my husband and I are leaving on a big adventure: a month in Costa Rica. For 16 years we’ve talked about this and right up until this past week my mind couldn’t wrap itself around the idea we are actually going.

Now here it is, just days before we fly off for a month, and I don’t quite know what to make of it. I’m excited, definitely. We have piles of clothes and gear and snacks (of course) on the dresser and the bed. We have lists of things to bring and things that have to get done before we go. There are colorful books of birds and beaches and monkeys and bats laid out on the coffee table.

I am excited … and I also feel anxious.

But it’s not the traveling that’s got me. (Frank and I could have fun together anywhere — as long as we have Scrabble and Frank’s willingness to repeatedly remind me that I don’t actually have control over anything.) No, as long as I remember to breathe and relax, I’m okay traveling.

I’m anxious about leaving my teachers and my students.

My normal life is so full of great good fortune that part of me is reluctant to leave it, even for a month. The instructors who lead my yoga classes and the students who I have the privilege to guide in movement each week are what I don’t want to leave behind.

But then I have to laugh at myself, since if I pay attention, teachers and students are everywhere. I’ve learned hugely from and been inspired deeply by the people who come to my classes and from my fellow yogis and yoginis who I get to practice with. All around me, a sea of teachers! I also know that the choices I make affect the people around me whether I know it or not. Everywhere I go, there are “students” taking in what I say and do.

So ask yourself, in this life, what do you want to learn? Are you willing to entertain the possibility that all of the following (and much more!) can be your teacher?

Your body and sensation ~ When I pay attention and listen to my body, I can learn to simultaneously challenge and heal it. I can learn when I can do more than I thought and what my body truly needs.

A beloved or admired person ~ Notice the people you admire, the ones you love to be around, and ask yourself what qualities they embody that you would like to emulate. Recognize that no matter how magnificent the other person is, you, too, possess those qualities. Use admired people to remind yourself to cultivate those qualities in yourself.

An avoided or annoying person ~ Notice the people you avoid, the ones who annoy you, and ask yourself what qualities they embody that you would like to curtail in yourself. Recognize that no matter how horrendous the other person is, you, too, possess those qualities. Use annoying people to remind yourself not to feed those qualities in yourself.

Nature ~ The wisest of teachers, Nature’s cycles and processes reveal the dharma of life (the way things are). If we pay attention, Nature shows us the many faces of beauty, life, and death.

Your self ~ Observing yourself with neutral, compassionate eyes can throw light on habits and tendencies that may be hurting you or getting in your way. See if you can loosen any defensive stance about the way you do things and simply witness yourself.

Your practice ~ Notice what’s happening in your practice (whatever that may be) and consider that your practice is a metaphor for your life. Consider the possibility that how you do anything is how you do everything.

Your life ~ as Pema Chödrön says, “Whatever is happening is the path to enlightenment.” Whether I’m balancing in Tree Pose or waiting in a serpentine TSA line or walking through a dripping rain forest, I have the opportunity to see it all as a teaching me something and leading me a little further along the path.

And how about your students? As you fly through a yellow-light-almost-turning-red, what are you teaching the teen-aged driver who sees you? As you interact with a gate representative at the airport, everyone around you is learning from and affected by how you choose to speak to her. We are all teachers offering guidance and modeling choices to the people around us. So, what do you want to teach?

Teachers are not always the ones at the front of the room. Explore the possibility that you are a student surrounded by teachers and that you are a teacher yourself surrounded by students. What do you want to learn? What do you want to teach? If we pay attention our life can be our practice and our practice can be our life.

practice on your own mat savasana feet“[Marichi’s twist] is one of the relatively few poses in yoga where your gaze ought to extend beyond your mat. You look into the distance. There are fewer poses like this than you think. Most of the time, you should keep your gaze close to you. Keep your gaze within the area of your mat. That will keep your concentration where it needs to be: inside.” ~ from Poser by Claire Dederer

An hour into a Bikram yoga class, I’m supposed to be mindfully minding my breath. I’m supposed to be perfectly still, eyes open, paying attention to my body, quieting my mind. Usually, I’m not. Usually, I am looking at the person next to me and wondering where she got that cute shirt.

The spine strengthening series comes an hour or so into a 90-minute Bikram class. Four poses: all variations on back-bending, all performed belly down. Cobra (bhujangasana) targets the low spine. Half Locus (salabhasana): the middle and upper spine. Full Locust (poorna-salabhasana) and Bow (dhanurasana): the entire spine, stem to stern. I’ve suggested renaming the series to the “spine bending ass kicking series.” So far, it hasn’t caught on.

Between the two sets of each pose is a short corpse pose (savasana). Resting on the belly, head turned to one side, eyes open. It’s during the belly-down savasanas that I mentally wander the room asking questions, making up stories … just generally distracting myself. (Evidently, the mind roams even more wildly when the eyes are closed — which is startling.)

Here are thoughts I have had during the savasanas in spine strengthening series:

“Interesting tattoo. I wonder what the story is. I don’t think I’d ever get a tattoo. It’s more permanent than marriage.”

“Wow. She looks really good in those shorts. I would not look good in those. At all. I bet she’s twenty-five. Good lord, I could be her mother. I wonder if my legs ever looked that good. Probably not. I had Early Onset Cellulite.” (And then I smile to myself because I am so very amusing.)

“He’s wiggling his fingers. Does he know that he’s wiggling his fingers? Maybe his hand hurts. He’s supposed to be still during savasana but he’s not. He’s wiggling his fingers.”

Instead of watching my breath, this dialog rolls around like a big ol’ bocce ball in the pickup truck of my mind.

One Saturday, Sara took us into the first belly-down savasana and said, “Relax your left ear onto the towel and let your eyes focus on that magic spot on your mat.”

“Magic spot”! Sounds good. So I did. I found a little loop of towel to look at and – zhoom! – just like that, I was in my own skin, sensing my body. I could suddenly feel my heart beating and my breath moving. Instead of insinuating myself onto my neighbor’s mat, I was present and connected to how my practice felt for me right now. By taking my gaze onto my mat, I got into my body.

Many times before, I’d heard teachers say, “Practice on your own mat.” I thought the instruction was intended to avoid comparing ourselves to others. (Which is cool and helpful since I have a similar running dialog in regards to how much I either suck or rock compared to who’s practicing next to me.) But this was the first time I understood that practicing on my own mat is the most direct way I can connect with what is actually happening for me in this moment.

I notice the same as I move through my day. I can spend a good deal of time looking around, mentally making up stories and offering ever-so-wise suggestions.

“He’d feel much better if he didn’t eat that way.”

“A more thoughtful person would clean up their dishes.”

“She romanticizes the way things were instead of living her life right now.”

Oy. While I’m rolling on like this, my thoughts feel so real and true. But they’re meaningless. They are just distractions from whatever I’m feeling that I would like to avoid.

Either in yoga or out in the day, when I notice that I’m having my bocce ball dialog of stories and judgment, I practice bringing myself back onto my own mat. I do my best to literally or figuratively find that magic spot on my own towel to focus on. Inevitably, as soon as I do, I notice sensations that my dialog had rolled right over: pain, fear, sadness, anger, loneliness.

Practicing on my own mat brings me back to myself and reminds me to pay attention to my own experience. It is the only one I have true access to and the only one I can really do anything about.

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